Using intent data for B2B pipeline acceleration
Here are 5 ways to turn ABM into a 'cosmic slingshot' for sales.
Just a few days after this Thanksgiving’s food and football, we were all treated to another feast with the Mars INSIGHT landing, both for the eyes and for the imagination (cool version of it here). To this day, with every successful space mission, I’m transported back to the Apollo program of my very early childhood. And even now, each time a great effort towards discovery succeeds, I still experience a little bit of joy in my heart.
While B2B marketing’s certainly not “the final frontier,” it’s both fun and useful to look for parallels, especially within high-interest topics like ABM. Research we’re currently analyzing shows that great success with ABM correlates highly with taking an end-to-end approach, one that incorporates a substantial focus on the sales pipeline and the marketing funnel together. Since in-pipeline opportunity management changes remain relatively unexploited in most marketers’ ABM journeys, my mission here is to highlight areas within this part of the account-based process that offers new opportunities for business improvement.
The “cosmic slingshot” for sales
The term “cosmic slingshot” (more prosaically referred to as “gravity assist”) describes how the gravity of one object in space can accelerate another to mind-blowing speeds. First theorized as far back as 1918, gravity assist is now commonly used to speed NASA missions on their way without the need for excessive volumes of rocket fuel. Successful ABM practitioners are now finding that in addition to its use for identifying and engaging demand in the marketing funnel, behavioral data — “purchase intent” — can be leveraged during the opportunity-management process — within the pipeline — to accelerate deals without adding substantial marketing expense. Once marketing gains access to high-quality purchase intent data at scale, ROI grows as the team can find more uses cases that leverage it. Across our clients, we’re seeing pipeline acceleration use cases coming online in 5 distinct process areas:
At the top of the pipe
Prioritizing focus — Accounts and buying groups
In classic demand gen, marketing uses the MQL as its standard unit of demand. But an MQL tells sales very little about what is happening in an account, so salespeople must rely on other inputs to judge whether or not this signal is reason enough to increase their coverage on that account. For many teams, an MQL doesn’t contain enough information to warrant such a commitment.
In contrast, when marketing can supply sales with high-quality purchase intent data about specific accounts and the people within them, sales has the information it needs to justify focusing its efforts where proven demand is now visible and understandable. By monitoring real purchase intent across a set of assigned accounts, ABM practitioners realize that the demand unit they should be paying attention to should be more than a single individual—and they can see this in ways that have been difficult or impossible until very recently. Finding more real demand and understanding it better (including establishing better ways to ignore false signals) are the first steps towards realizing more revenue faster.
Setting up for success — What is an opportunity?
Our newest research is making it clear that successful ABM practitioners have worked hard to overcome process issues exacerbated by the idiosyncrasies of marketing automation platforms (MAP) and CRM systems. While it’s natural to hope that a core system like this will arrive off-the-shelf, designed to support your future efforts, the reality is that these systems were built on process-thinking that preceded the rise of account-based understanding. It is very hard for your MAP to pass information about a buying group within an account. Likewise, it’s very hard for your CRM to capture demand status information about such a group. To understand this challenge, take a look at a newly created opportunity in your system.
With a vast majority of our clients, we see an association with a single named individual — or worse, no prospect person at all. When marketers are monitoring real purchase intent at a list of accounts, they can see multiple individuals doing purchase research on specific topics. This enables them to supply critical prioritization, messaging, and positioning information to the sales rep on the account. Also, the best teams are using it — combined with systems changes — to dramatically upgrade their understanding of what’s going on with that particular opportunity.
Beyond the simple idea that the presence of multiple buying-process researchers in an account is a better identifier of real opportunity than a single MQL, knowing exactly what they are researching gives sales management a much better picture of how to evaluate the opportunity and even coach their reps. Teams that can capture the buying team’s critical signals and then associate them with the opportunity put themselves in a much better management and learning position. They have a better view of the true opportunity status. They can value it more accurately. And they can optimize their reps’ approaches based on this richer information. Not only will a single opportunity move faster in the pipe, but future opportunities will also be managed more effectively going forward.
In the middle of the pipe
Countering threats — Better, stronger enablement
Quite separate from ABM, all marketing teams will always be responsible for providing the awareness air cover necessary to drive prospect awareness of their company’s solutions. Likewise, marketing must work hard to build consideration levels that will result in better market traction and real pipeline as soon as possible. With the rise of real purchase intent data, ABM leaders are finding that their opportunity to push out competition continues to expand. In the absence of a quality third-party purchase intent monitoring capability, a company is severely limited in what it knows about the competition’s impact on its active prospects. They can’t see much of this in their own 1st-party data. Even their best sources, like closed/lost deal analysis, take time and are hard to apply to protect active pipeline. ABM practitioners with a real purchase intent platform in place are using information on the accounts where they have active pipeline to monitor competitive threats in near real time.
By knowing what competitors are of interest to a prospect that is an active opportunity in your pipeline, including the key use cases and feature/functions, you are capable of altering your sales conversations to counter that threat. We’re seeing the best ABM practitioners using this competitive counterpunching approach via enhanced sales enablement to overcome competitive presence. They are accelerating past competitive bottlenecks by proactively addressing requirements that they can see are a high priority for the prospect’s buying team.
Overcoming stalls — See the action you’ve been missing
While regular involvement in pipeline analysis may remain outside of the domain of many marketing practices, leading practitioners are typically very engaged here. Maybe due to the simple fact of human nature, things that have stalled seem to cause teams to lose interest. People and sales teams are no different, want to focus on where they can see action. Advanced ABM teams are learning from using monitoring techniques within their real purchase intent platforms that many opportunities that look stalled in their first-party data (from MAP, web and CRM) are still in an active buyer’s journey. They are now specifically monitoring stalled opportunities (and those that are moving too slowly between stages) to see what they can do to re-engage and better serve the prospect team with relevant sales conversations. Restarting stalls and accelerating slow-movers has the dual effect of cleaning up the pipeline and significantly reducing overall end-to-end time-in-pipe numbers. Because real purchase intent renders activity from outside a company’s systems instantly visible and knowable, stalls have become one of the first places these teams can go to accelerate their throughput.
End-to-end pipeline acceleration
Teaming to win – ABM success is never a solo endeavor
One of the things I love most about watching space exploration is the shots of the teams at mission control. When a voyage is at a critical stage, the energy is palpable; it’s right there in the room with you. And while every member of the team has a specific job, each one is a full participant in the whole endeavor. Since complex, long-sales-cycle B2B deals involve so many players and inputs on the prospect-opportunity side, no sales team can expect even its most heroic quota-achievers to succeed without substantial support. ABM — and the processes and toolsets that are developing to support it — is truly about team success. You can see this in the way successful teams are celebrating their achievements.
Our latest research shows ABM outcomes improve over time. Since at many companies there are real systemic and organizational challenges that could get in the way of ABM success, the best teams work on solving for these barriers early on. Pipeline acceleration efforts themselves tend to develop later (but not exclusively so). Interestingly, teams go after it less by adding more investment to paid programs or new systems and more by expanding their use of existing capabilities they’ve already implemented for other foundational uses. Real purchase intent insight is an example of this. It has been adopted by many marketing organizations to enhance the performance of their demand generation efforts. Now, among more advanced practitioners, we see application across both marketing and sales. They’re expanding their use cases to include focus directly on the sales pipeline for new levels of ROI. I don’t believe this would have been possible had they not first established an end-to-end concept of mission success, including real sales and marketing collaboration as an operating principle.